By Jake Tiger
Thirty-five years ago, Professor Bosah Ebo took a job in the small town of Lawrenceville, New Jersey, thinking it was merely a “pit stop” on the way to something more grandiose.
Now, very few people have ever been employed at Rider University longer than him.
The well-traveled professor is one of the school’s longest-tenured professors and has been a mainstay in the communications department. He made a name for himself with his uniquely hands-on, boisterous teaching style, as well as his valuable, down-to-earth advice.
Ebo has never been afraid of subverting expectations, as a decision to break away from the norm is what would set the Onitsha, Nigeria, native on his path to Rider University.
“[Nigeria] was colonized by the British, so the education system was set up like a British system,” said Ebo. “Most of our exposure was to Europe and England, but when I wanted to go to school, I just wanted to do something different.”
At the age of 18, Ebo attended college orientations at Onitsha’s United States Embassy in preparation for what would be a massive shift in his life. During one of the sessions, a young and inquisitive Ebo found the communication skills of a certain American speaker to be particularly amiable, and he wondered where he needed to go to become just as kind.
“The guy who was giving the speech at the embassy happened to be from Wisconsin,” said Ebo. “I went up to him at the end of the speech because he was really nice, and I asked him, ‘Is everyone from Wisconsin like you?’”
This chance encounter ended up being a major point of divergence for Ebo, as he eventually chose to further his education at the University of Wisconsin.
However, Ebo’s first impression of America gave him cold feet. In fact, his mind was flooded with second thoughts from the moment he stepped off the plane.
“We landed in the middle of the cold season in Wisconsin … I was this close to going back on the next flight,” said Ebo, pinching his thumb and index finger together. “It’s the kind of cold that goes to your bones. It’s no big deal now, but back then it was totally new.”
Despite his bone-chilling homesickness, Ebo grew accustomed to his new surroundings and stuck it out at the University of Wisconsin, ultimately earning his master’s degree there, and later his doctorate at the University of Iowa.
“My initial thinking was [that] I was going to go to school, graduate and then go back home. I had no intention of staying in America,” said Ebo.
After finishing his studies at Iowa, Ebo was not immediately able to defend his dissertation, as his advisor was away teaching in China for an entire year.
In the meantime, Ebo got to work in America, landing a fellowship at the University of Rochester in New York in 1986, and not long after, a job as a professor at Rider University.
“I said, ‘It’s a good job. I’ll go do it for a year while my advisor is in China, then I’ll get a real job and I’ll move,’” said Ebo. “That was 35 years ago.”
A “real job” for Ebo was one where he was still a full-time professor, just on a bigger scale. He dreamed of teaching at a place like Wisconsin and Iowa or even a big city like Onitsha.
To Ebo’s surprise, the tight-knit community of Rider proved to be rather comforting. The professor who spent his life studying communication had underestimated the value of the human connection.
“I love the intimacy, the closeness, people know you by name,” said Ebo. “I realized I liked it, so I stayed.”
Communication is a subject of great importance to Ebo, as it has been his primary focus as a professor and researcher. For over three decades, he has taught communication ethics, interpersonal communication and public relations to Rider students who hope to build genuine connections with others.
“First and foremost, I think he’s an absolute sweetheart,” said junior musical theater major Avery Gallagher, who had Ebo as a freshman. “I feel like I definitely did learn a lot from his class. It really gave me an insight into what media was in the real world.”
In his 35-year tenure at Rider, Ebo has taught some people that students like Gallagher may find familiar, as Department Chair Shawn Kildea and Lecturer Jessie Oliano were both students of Ebo’s, but now work by his side at Rider.
Along with his former students, the lot of his colleagues find him to be a guiding voice in the department, with his top-notch interpersonal skills and wealth of experience at Rider being regularly of use.
“I’d say he was a bit of a mentor to me,” said Department Chair Nancy Wiencek. “He’s sort of like the grandfather of our department. He’s the one who has the history … he knows where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
Ebo’s hometown of Onitsha has a population of 1.49 million people, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Not one of those people has a life like Ebo’s, because at the end of the day, not even he truly knows where his life will take him.
“I came here thinking this is going to be a pit stop,” said Ebo. “Thirty-five years later … you can’t stay at a place for that long if you don’t like it.”